Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Dottie George

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the sandhill crane.
From mid-February through April, the Rocky Mountain sandhill crane population is on the move. More than 20,000 birds that have spent the winter in southern New Mexico make their way to their summer breeding grounds in the northern Rockies and beyond. A major stopover is the San Luis Valley, where artificially flooded fields within the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge refuel them with grain and invertebrates.
Within Archuleta County, residents may spot migrating flocks of more than 100 birds flying in “V” formation. They ride thermal currents over a thousand feet about the ground.
Their loud bugling calls sound like rolling the letter “r” deep within their throats. Traveling from 15 to 50 miles per hour, they may stop overnight in meadows, agricultural fields and wetlands.
It’s rare to see any cranes here during winter and uncommon in summer, although one crane was seen here several times last summer. From mid-September through November, they may be spotted as they migrate south.
Adult cranes are tall, with long necks and legs. Their wingspan is approximately 6 feet. They have bulky bodies with tail feathers that form a bustle. Mainly slate gray, they have red foreheads and white cheeks. Their long, pointed bills, legs and toes are black. Though males are a little larger, they are nearly indistinguishable from females. Bonding for life and sharing parental duties, birds may live from 20 to over 35 years. Cranes dance to attract mates, but may exhibit this behavior throughout their lives.
A nearby opportunity to learn about sandhill cranes begins tomorrow. The 37th annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place March 6, 7 and 8. Tours and presentations celebrate cranes and other Colorado wildlife. Visit mvcranfest.org to find out more.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on March 8, 2020.